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04/21/09 9:49 PM ET
Ausmus makes surreal return to Houston
Dodgers catcher spent 10 seasons behind dish for Astros
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Mark Loretta has played for several teams throughout his career, so returning to a ballpark that used to be home to him is old hat. Brad Ausmus hasn't been around quite as much, so walking into Minute Maid Park on Tuesday as a visiting player was undoubtedly much stranger to him than to Loretta. Considering Ausmus played in Houston for 10 years, including the last eight in a row, heading to the visitor's clubhouse at Minute Maid Park was surely a weird experience. "This is the one part of the stadium I've never seen," he said. "I've never set foot in here. I've never been in the third-base dugout, either. I would imagine that would be a little strange. I'll get over it by game time." Ausmus, Loretta and Randy Wolf are all Dodgers now, but their ties to select people still affiliated with the Astros are strong. Batting practice before Tuesday's game looked like a high school class reunion, with players from both teams hugging, shaking hands and having a few laughs. Ausmus, the longest-tenured Astros catcher in history, played his final game with the club in September, vowing to either play closer to home or retire. That left the San Diego resident with two options -- the Dodgers and the Padres. The Dodgers wanted him as a backup to rising star Russell Martin, and Ausmus, who turned 40 last week, is serving in largely the same capacity as he did during his final year with the Astros. "It's fun to be a part of, although I'm not a part of it as much as I used to, or would have been years back," he said of his part-time role. "But it's fun to be on the team. I'm close to home. I can shoot home in an hour and a half. It's really worked out well for me. " The first thing Loretta and Ausmus did when they arrived to the ballpark was stop by the home clubhouse to say hello to the behind-the-scenes workers whom they grew close to during their time here. "That's the first stop we made," Loretta said. "It feels like yesterday when we were here. It was fun. It was a good group last year. We didn't get where we wanted to be, but it was a good run." Wolf, who was an Astros arm for just over two months after general manager Ed Wade acquired him from the Padres before the trade deadline, will start Wednesday's game. "I made a lot of friends over there, and it's different to throw against guys that are now your friends," he said. "You kind of have to put that away and try to get them out, as much as they're trying to hit you. It'll be fun to go out there and pitch against a bunch of my old teammates. It was only two months, but it was a fun two months." The Dodgers (10-3) are off to a tremendous start, unlike the Astros, who entered Tuesday's series opener with a 4-9 record. Asked for his assessment of his old team, Ausmus sounded a lot like he did in past years when he'd give the "it's too early to panic" speech to overly dramatic reporters. "This is a very typical Astros start," he said. "How many times did we see the Astros get off to a slow start in April and then get back in the hunt, including last year? The team made a nice run the second half last year. I know the veteran guys in the clubhouse who have been through it are not concerned. It's frustrating, but it doesn't mean this is going to be a bad season. They still have plenty of time to have an excellent Houston Astros season."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.